Daniel Casasanto, Senior Scientific Staff at MPI for Psycholinguistics about his research: Language, Culture, and Mind – How do people transform experience into knowledge? How is thought related to perception and action? How do language and culture enable us to exceed our innate cognitive endowments? My research integrates methods from cognitive psychology, developmental psychology, linguistics, and cognitive neuroscience to explore connections between talking, thinking, perceiving, and acting.

Research Project Examples

Language and Thought – How do people think about things they can never see or touch?

How do people mentally represent and reason about abstract concepts like time, value, or intelligence? My research explores a potential answer: perhaps the mind recruits old structures for new uses. Perhaps perceptuo-motor representations that result from physical interactions with the world are recycled to form mental representations in abstract domains.

This hypothesis is motivated, in part, by patterns in language: people often talk about abstract things using metaphors from more concrete or perceptually rich domains (e.g., a long time, a high price, a deep mystery). But do people really think about abstract concepts metaphorically? Although linguistic evidence for ‘conceptual metaphors’ is abundant, the necessary non-linguistic evidence has been elusive.

My research has developed new experimental tools to evaluate metaphor theory as an account of the acquisition and structure of abstract concepts. Studies using low-level psychophysical tasks provide some of the first non-linguistic evidence for metaphorical mental representations. Read More

Culture and Cognition – Can cross-cultural variation reveal cognitive universals?

Cultural experience, in addition to perceptuo-motor and linguistic experience, contributes to the creation of knowledge, and cross-cultural differences can demonstrate the diversity of the human conceptual repertoire. Yet, to the extent that our concepts depend on our cultural conventions and artifacts, these same cross-cultural differences can also provide powerful evidence for universal processes of knowledge construction. Read More

Mind and Body – What is the role of bodily experience in structuring the mind?

To what extent are concepts internalizations of perceptuo-motor interactions with the environment? My research addresses two related questions: how do mental simulations of physical experiences contribute to the instantiation of concepts online, and how does perceptuo-motor experience contribute to conceptual development? Read More